Erwin Decoene

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since Oct 26, 2015
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Courtrai Area, Flanders Region, Belgium Europe
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Recent posts by Erwin Decoene

A cheap way to bring down a building ?
6 years ago
I'm a regular user of Basalt powder and other rocks or rock powders. This tread gives a nice back up to my reasons for doing this. Love to hear about other experiences.
6 years ago
Hello everybody

I skimmed this tread, not much on preparation and drying of tea herbs. That's important to preserve taste and medicinal properties.

I've been experimenting with tea and herbal infusions on and off for almost 40 years. Most i harvest in my garden with some harvest in public spaces (there is a spraying ban in force on public land in my town). I harvest most teas and herbs troughout the year and in as many different locations as possible. That way i hope to limit any pollution that may slip trough my selection process.

For kitchen use i only select the freshest newest leaves - preferably after a nice fresh summer rain  to remove any dust. In winter i do not harvest much because in my area aerial soot deposition is at it highest in winter.

Any leaves, stems, flowers marked by any kind of mold, soot, predation, .... is tossed. Tossed stuff that is aromatic is used as potpouri, educational tool (scent awareness in kinder garten f.e.), pest controll, mulch, ....).

Most of my harvest is dried in a warm air dryer with 5 stacked sieves at a temperature between 30 and 40°C. Some herbs (fast drying stuff) are dried on a towel over a grill in a cold oven. I used to dry stuff in a dry, dark room in the attic but that works only well for mediterranean herbs in our climate.

The air dryer is the most reliable - we have used it for 18 months now. We have had ZERO loss from mold etc.....
The oven method is good enough for small batches in most circumstances but i have had some spectacular losses due to mold developping in drying flowers (flowers from elderberry (Sambucus nigra) and lime tree (Tillia) in damp weather. When it is blossom time you have to pick then or not at all.
Hanging herbs on the attic, has not caused great losses but i was not impressed with drying speed or aroma.

I prefer the warm air dryer for speed, shelf life and aroma of the product.

By harvesting only the fresh top leaves of many plants, you accomplish several goals at once. 1) You get fresh leaves untainted by air pollution, soot or disease. 2) The fresh leaves dry usually easier than fully mature leaves. 3) Supposedly the active substances are concentrated in the freshed growth. 4) Some plant react by forming 2 or more new branches near the top 2 remaining leaves. You get a better developped plant with lots of fresh growth. 5) You postpone blooming season for that plant and you insure much more flowers.
Plants that react well to this picking method are : Lemon balm, all the mint species i grow, stinging nettles, lemon verbena, ......

I wash almost all my pickings. To much airborn pollution in my region. In the list below, i'll mention it if i don't wash some harvest.

Some experiences

1) Wild strawberry (Fragaria vesca). I grow this mostly in pots on windowsills, in big planters and in patches in the garden. I harvest the leaves runners and flowers. The fruit is to sweet for tea to my taste but great in deserts and jams. I harvest in very small batches. It dries easily and keeps.

An optional ingredient in tea mix 1.

2) Apple mint ( - sorry i did not spot an english wiki) is a staple. I harvest both leaves and flowers. It reacts very well to top picking. I can go over the plant several times postponing flowering for weeks.

3) Bramble. Leaves and flowers. Dries reasonably well. I pick the flowers from plants that don't produce nice fruit. Brambles can get out of controll, rigourous no mercy picking is what i do where i don't want them. I don't use the fruit in tea. I harvest in our families gardens, public spaces etc.... However i harvest only above 1 m of the ground. Foxes frequent the plants and their urine spreads parasites (in Europe - don't know elsewhere).

An optional ingredient in one of my tea mix 1. If you use it in tea, you have to sieve your tea. Brambles are prickly.

4) Stinging nettle. A great plant here. Supposedly it helps against allergies, itching and such. I believe that's correct. Even if i'm wrong it has superecological benefits (a zillion butterflies and such, munch on its leaves).
It dries easilly. In the dryer less than a day.

In a pure tea, it has a 'greenish - spinachlike' taste. At least to my taste buds. Mostly used in tea mix 1.

5) Cassis : I use the leaves for tea. They have a wonderfull flavor. Not everybody likes it. It is supposed to be good for the hart. Dries well but harvesting leaves may lead to loss of berries. In late summer most leaves turn leathery and spotty.

Mostly used in tea mix 1. When fresh, i also use in ad hoc tea-mixes/

6) Lemonscented pelargonium - Difficult to be sure about the correct name. I have several plants which do not look exactly the same. All have a strong citrus aroma and are similar in processing and use.
They are very strong scented and should be used sparingly - might cause upset stomachs and such. When used in a mix they might overpower other aroma's and taste. Troughout the growing season i remove leaves that start to yellow. Of these leaves i use the stems for tea. Only at the end of the growing season do i harvest leaves.

This plants leaves and stems take really LONG to dry. Sometimes WEEKS. Once dry, it keeps very well. I don't use the flowers - no need to - overproduction as it is. No idea about the use of the flowers. After 2  years used stuff goes to a potpourri or education.

I use it in mixes 1 and 2. One or two leavestems in a 1 litre tea pot.

7) Lemon balm. I love this plant. The fresh aroma is really nice BUT very difficult to preserve in dried form. If not dried well, it tends to taste like stinging nettles. I prefer young fresh leaves and flowers.
The older leaves tend to get infected later in summer. Top picking gives you more fresh leaves.
At the end of the growing season or if i want to refresh a badly affected plant i cut of most green stuff. I get rid of most (miserable looking) leaves and i dry the fresh stems for tea. Even woody stems are used. Stems take longer to dry and need more time to produce a great tasting tea.
The tossed leaves, seed pods etc... are spread where i hope to establish new plants.

Lemon balm is used in mixes 1 and 2. When fresh leaves are available it's nice pure or in combination with black mint and/or chocolate mint and/or pine needles.

Young fresh leaves combine well in salads as well.

8 ) Lemon verbena. Aromatic herb goes well in salads when fresh and as an ingredient to balance liquers. Reacts well to top picking. Difficult to bring it trough the winter here in Europe.

I use it in teamixes 1 and 2 and in combination with pine needles and/or black mint. Needs only 2 to 6 dried leaves in a mix for a 1 littre pot.

9) Pineneedles. Several kinds of pine. Alle taste more or less the same. Can take really long to dry even in the dryer. Self harvesting pine needles is new to my repertoire so i'm gratefull to hear your experiences.

The overhanging (ex XXmas tree) pine shadowing my patio is sadly cut down - my neighbour feared it would take down part of my house if it came down in a winter storm. Ironic because i would have loved the tree to do exactly that (building permit troubles, sigh).
I now harvest from the wild (only fresh growth). Luckily we have some nature reserves where pine are "flora non grata" so i intend to harvest there.

Used in teamixes 1, 2 and 3 as well as pure or in combination with black mint.

10) Witte dovenetel. To EDIT.

Used in teamix 4.

11) Raspburry leaves (and only by accident flowers). I do not use the fruit in tea. Apart from deserts and jams the fruit makes an excellent combination with wine vinegar. I have autumn raspberries traded for from different sources.

I pick the fresh leaves near the top but i don't top pick this because that interferes with fruiting. Each second or third leave is picked as well as any leaves shadowing the flowers and fruit once the growing season is well under way. I find that this expose the fruit to the sun and improves the aroma. A much wanted plant that wants to escape its spot. So vigorous harvesting is OK. Combines well with stinging nettles. Keeps out unwanted fruit thieves (i'm somewhat immune to the stinging ) Birds hardly pick any raspberry fruit. I presume because the nettles hinder them flying in.

The leaves dry well and fast. Here the air dryer made a marked difference. The leaves dried in the air dryer have a liquorice aroma. Very nice.

I use the fresh or dried leaves mostly in tea mix 1.

12) Chamomile : This one i can't grow nearly enough. In the wild i have no reliable (unsprayed) sources nearby. In my region it only turns up in great numbers in disturbed soils. Mostly building sites where you cannot be sure that some nutty contractor has not used pesticides. It has a protective effect on the eyes.

Used in teamix 4.

13) Spearmint (kruizemunt) : A nice mint. I use leaves, stems and flowers. It dries well.

Used in teamix 4.

14) Laurel leaves : My mother has a big plant (2-3 m) that does well in a sheltered spot between 2 houses. The plant is an evergreen and the waxy leaves may accumulate atmosferic soot deposits. I'm very selective when harvesting and all leaves are handwashed. Wonderfull in the kitchen in soup, sauces and stews.

Used in teamix 3.

15) Lavender : I use it sparingly - my own supply is limited and the bees love it. So i only harvest flowers nearing the end of their bloom.  The flowers are small and grouped together in a flowering top. The plant has a disinfecting reputation. I used in the garden to disinfect my hands when i have no water and soap handy. Dries well.

Used in teamix 1 - one flowering top for 1,2 litres - optional in teamix 3.

16) Lime flower : In my region the different lime variants/species bloom at slightly different moments in early summer. I only take the flowers. The little leaf above the flowers often accumulates soot - especially after a cold springtime). The different trees produce different tasting flowers. To my taste this tea is absolutely much better tasting after drying. Drying in the air dryer has done wonders for the quality and shelf life. If dried outside of the air dryer you must watch out for mold.
Bees and bumble bees while come for days to the place where you are drying the tea.

Used in teamix 1 or pure or in combination with fresh lemon balm.

17) Hawthorn : A recent addition to my repertoire. I had no good opportunity to collect and dry flowers but i have picked and dried fresh leaves. It dries well.
I use the plant in the build up of my berry hedge to give support and shelter to other berries in the hedge. The hedge itself preserves a favourable microclime and privacy to my garden. I started using it because i wanted to test whether i could do something usefull with the clippings.
The plant has a good reputation for the support of hart function.

Used in teamix 1.

18 ) Rose buds : I collect these in the wild and on public lands. Drying is sometimes difficult. Once well dried, the buds become brittle and you can break them and remove the seeds. I drop the seeds in good spots. The resulting tea contains hairs that may be irritating. So i sieve my tea to prevent problems. I have tried removing seeds and hairs (on the inside of the bud) before drying but that is messy and finicky work not worth the trouble with the kind of rose buds available in my area. Theoretically a good Vitamine C source but i doubt if the vitamine survives contact with hot water.

Used is teamix 1 or pure.

19) Rose flowers : Well perfumed roses make for a delicate tea. I suppose not all roses do well in tea but i have only a few years experience and i have no definite idea about what tastes best. Smallish, wild or nearly wild roses seem best but there are some exceptions. Lose flowerleaves dry easily. Complete flowers are susceptible to mold when drying outside the airdryer.

Used in teamixes 1 & 2.

20) Rosemary : My favorite kitchen herb and also nice in tea. It pick small quantities during the growing season for use in tea, salads and meat dishes. At the end of the growing season i select the best stuff from the clippings to dry for use in tea, cooking and potpourri. A robust plant that does well on a diet of stones and sandy soil as long as it has full sun and well draining soil. I noticed that tea that contains rosemary stays good longer.

Used in teamixes 1 & 3. I increase the proportion of rosemary in the teamixes if i feel a cold coming.

21) Sage : Difficult to grow in my area or at least bought plants do badly. I have had good succes growing sage from seed once i found a plant setting seed in our local soil.
I suspect varieties with less leaves on the stems are less susceptible to disease in my climate and the harvest dries and preserves better. I use both stems and leaves. Troughout the growing season i collect small quantities but most of my winter stash comes from the clippings at the end of summer.

Used in teamix 1 or when afflicted with sore troat pure.

22) Orange mint : There are different varieties out there. I have several. The big leaved, strong scented one i have tends the overgrow everything else in its growing container. In damp summers, miniscule white mots? congegrate on this mint and this damages the plant. No idea what it is. This little plague sometimes switches to the apple mint and maroccan mint nearby. When i'm bothered by this i cut back my mints, toss the damaged leaves and collect stems and flowers for drying. The mints grow back shortly and the white insects bother me no more.
Cologne mint (used in the original recipe for "eau de cologne" has similar properties. I don't use it anymore.

Stopped using orange mint in tea mixes - overpowers everything. Good pure tea to use cold on a hot day.
Good herb to use in salads.

23) Blackthorn leave  : I collect the leaves of this plant occasionaly in the wild or at the edges of fields late in the growing season. Early in the season i don't harvest blackthron leaves because that's when farmers tend to spray most pesticides.
I hope to find one that fruits massively and add it to my berry hedge. I love the fresh fruit. I learned to eat it when making my first geological map. It's a great thirst relief. I'm in very small minority to love eating the fruit BEFORE freezing. The fruit is also super excellent as the basis for liqueurs.

I'm looking for extra use of the clippings i expect after adding it to my berry hedge.

Optional in teamix 1.

24) Thyme  : To EDIT.
Elderberry flower  : To EDIT.
Water mint !!!  : To EDIT.
Black mint and Chocolate mint  : To EDIT.

6 years ago
The moat idea is wonderfull. In my area almost all farms had moats.
If not for security (keep out raiders), they had them for drainage controll, growing carp, geese and ducks, drinkwater for cattle and process water for the local flax industry.
Nature loves moats, so many good points there.

There is of course a butt.

Musquito's were a problem as well as the terrible smell.

So i would recommend a reed bed filter integrated in your moat system. A grease catch is needed to allow the bacteria in and on the reeds roots to clean your water. If no manure runoff or untreated processwater circulates back to your moat the reed bed system should be adequate. Reed beds are much in use here for sites that cannot drain to the local sewage plant. The reed beds are maintained in winter - the reed beds slow down in winter but don't stop working as long as the reeds roots don't freeze.
Whatever medium (reed/wood shavings/pumice/poreus brick/....) you use to grow your watercleansing bacteria on, it might be a good idea to inoculate your system with a little bit of water, plantroots and mud from a working system or a dich with a grey water influx. In my experience it helps a lot especially if low level motor oil concentrations may get into your moat.

The musquito's are a different problem. Near here (Flanders region, Belgium). Natural musquito controll relies on clear water and plenty predators (fisch etc...) hunting musquito larvae. I have no clou what might be good practice near you.

The moat is best designed with deep and shallows, steep and sloping banks, and with consideration to the light reaching the water. That way you maximaze your biodiversity. The reeds offer safe nesting and nesting material for birds. Carp is probably not a good species for you moat. If you run a creek trough you moat, you may have more options.

Have you considered what you may do with you waterplants and reeds ? We use reeds as nesting space for solitary bees, etc.....

6 years ago
Some other way of 'knowing'
What do you think of the following ?

Wisdom of the crowds is fascinating to me - I guess it might work better most of the time with an educated crowd, but i'm sure that's not always the case. I have had enough cases where my initial hypothesis was crushed after a while by measurable facts. I guess in the absence of real data ...... The problem is then when is a 'wisdom of the crowd' answer likely correct?
6 years ago
Good question. (Its late so i will probably have to edit this a bit later on. Is there no way to have a text in writing saved before publishing ?)

First of all. I really don't understand why we humans are supposed to have stopped evolving Why of all creatures on earth should we be the exception? This idea smacks of 'special status'. For such an exceptional claim, i like to see exceptional evidence.

BTW The only species that have stopped evolving are extinct ones. Looking from that perspective,..... Any claim that we have stopped evolving is at least as extraordinary. MORE evidence please, otherwise this idea is a variation on "we are in the middle of the universe".

The way evolution works is that in a given population some genes give the individuals having them a competitive advantage all else being the same. The bigger the population the bigger the chance that some gene variant will pop up that has a mesurable effect on the survival chances of that individual. However it will take far longer than ever before in the past before all of mankind has acquired that gene.

What is definitely happening is that changes in our abiltity to build succesfull societies (language and social skills f.e.) are added on top of purely physical (including dietary) evolution.
Societies have become very succesfull in the short turn. To stick to food, (you can easily broaden the argument) food acquisition, food production, food preservation, food safety, food  hygiene have become much better than in the past. Just look at population statistics.

What our numbers allow us to do is specialise and diversify. Most of us have just to be good enough at a certain job to earn enough money to keep ourselves and our family in food, clothes, etc..... It does not matter so much anymore if you happen to have bad eyesight so you don't tiggers coming. Others in society have eliminated most tigers. So for most of humankind, good eyesight in the distance is no longer as big an evolutionary plus as it used to be.
Instead we have to be smart enough to avoid being eliminated by competing humans, From that perspective we gain if we live in a group that includes people who see really well in the distance (to shoot tigers, very unPC ). We gain if we live in a group that have people who don't get seasick, those are the obvious fishermen and mariners, ..... Diversity is top.
Getting along with your fellows is for humans the most pressing evolutionary drive. Any attributes helping us in that regard - brainpower, language skills, .... - evolve very fast, it seems. Our cultural evolution is even faster.

Apply this to food.

We change plants and animals - we became a (perhaps the) driving force in changing/skewing the genepool of species we have a relation with - that is on top of any 'natural' evolution. Species we 'like' don't go extinct easily. In fact, there have never been as much cows, camels, goats, sheep, etc..... nor have these species ever been spread so much - many over almost the entire globe.
It is not just domesticated species. Cockroaches, rats, lice, sparrows,... evolve in tandem with us. They influence our evolution.

We cook food, so we can eat food that we otherwise would find difficult to process. The result is that our gut has not to grow longer and bigger - we have not adapted our gut, we evolved a better brain. A better brain allows use to 'spend' less energy in our gut (and more thought on food. Just look at gutsize of chimps or gorilla's compared to their brainpower.
We can refrase the original question a bit. Perhaps our bodies are not yet adapted to what we do with our food or even Perhaps our gut bacteria are not adapting fast enough to cope with the changes in the things we do to our food. Gut bacteria evolve very fast compared to us. Newcomers in an area can have bad reactions to local foodstuffs but if they survive the initial diarea they (or their gut bacteria) adapt after a while. The classic example is Europeans going to live in the tropics. Lots of them died, some were succesfull enough to have kids.

I don't think we have a specific, predisposed diet in our genes as a species. We have proven to be very adaptable mostly trough culture. That is not to say that individuals have no genetic disposition to certain foods.
Historically speaking individuals and societies with lots of different foods available, have less chance to suffer famines, they remain healthier, ......

An european without alcoholgene had to drink contaminated woter. Chinese drank tea, not so much need of an alcoholgene.
Europeans used milkproducts. That's a way to make environments usefull that f.e; the Chinese historically did not use. Historically, mountain regions in Europe are productive agricultural regions (wool, chease, butter, milk and meat). The classic Chinese culture was late in entering the mountains - so no milk processing gene there yet.

In answer to the question of R. Ranson,

Yes we have adapted somewhat to the agricultural production of the regions we live(d) in. Mostly trough culture and a bit (as fas as the evidence goes) trough actual fysical adaptation. I suspect - but found no evidence - that our gut bacteria change and evolve in our lifetime - it seems logical to me.
Societies in general are doing well enough with their traditional food. Individuals might suffer unless they find foods that help them (perhaps that's why we like to dapple foreign cuisines?). Foods or cooking methods are adopted into the cuisine if advantageous enough. Think patato, maize, etc... becoming standard foods in europe.

It is important to note that 'traditional' food might have helped people to stay healthy enough to reproduce but that does not mean that this food helps you to live 50 years in good health past your reproductive years.

I think that a varied diet will keep me going the longest and in best health possible.
6 years ago
Second try to answer - my net connection is annoying me.

In Belgium we have a lot of recipes based on beer. There are specialised restaurants. Other places have beer charts in stead of winecharts etc.....
So when a brewer is launching some new beer, he asks (or pays) a chef to make recipes with his new brew. Rabitmeat is great in combination with beer. My brother and a friend of mine started a brewery and they did likewise.

Of course - to us - it's cultural. That is something that works around here - No idea if it would near you.

Seems to me that you make both main ingredients why not combine them to bring in customers curious about what to do with rabbit meat. Selling rabbit stew with beer sauce, selling rabbit paté with beer, ..... You have competitions for the best chili con carne - why not a best rabbit recipe ?

6 years ago
Thanks Todd i could not find the word.

Tommie how many rabbits are you producing that you can call in a meat truck ?

As David mentioned rabbit is quite specific. My US family told me that they have trouble finding rabbit meat in the greater Detroit area. You could perhaps target restaurants? French and Belgian cuisines to name 2 have a rabbit tradition.

In Belgium almost every family has its own recipes for beerbased porc, beef and rabbit stews. People used to keep rabbits more than nowadays. You used to see people herbs and grass for their rabbits. If you wanted a rabbit you could usually find several small scale producers - often pensioners supplementing their income.

Folks in the microbrew business might be interested.

An acquintance disolves and ferments rabbit manure for use in her vegetable garden. She attributes her considerable succes to this (her youngest son is also very happy with it - his 3 pot plants for personal use were massive).

6 years ago
I tought i noticed a recent post on wind power on this site - i don't find it back so perhaps i'm mistaken.

Here in Belgium most studies say that small scale wind is not economical, however that is subject to fiscal and financial concerns and limits posed by building codes. If you have no alternative windpower makes sense i guess.

Small wind power production is not a subject, i generally look into. No practical use to us given our circumstances. However i noticed this windmill - perhaps somebody here, can use the link.

6 years ago
Love rabbit stewed in brown beer. How is non super mass produced beer called again in English ?
6 years ago